What does the setting of Chapter II of The Scarlet Letter tell the reader about the Puritans and Hawthorne's view of them?
Chapter II of The Scarlet Letter continues Hawthorne's description of the Puritan town. In the opening paragraphs he hints to why there is such a large gathering in front of a prison door. He points out that the reader could assume that someone was guilty of a horrible crime and being prepared to be executed; however, he is quick to point out that the reader shouldn't make such an assumption. As these people, the Puritan people, are a much harder group of people, the cause for their gathering could be for a smaller crime. He lists possible crimes, which are designed to show the Puritans as quick to punish and unable to forgive.
It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post.
This chapter gives Hawthorne's insight into the women gathered. These "gossips" begin to discuss the charged woman and speculate that her beauty is the reason she has been given such a light sentence. The oldest of the group asks the women "If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five...would she come off with such a sentence as the magistrates have awarded?" The women believe that their religious leaders (remember religion and law are not separate during this time period) have been taken in by her beauty and have not given her a fitting punishment. They suggest that instead of just having to wear a scarlet letter for life (which they point out can be covered up and doesn't cause the wearer enough embarrassment) she should have had an A branded on her forehead or put to death for her sin.
These women show Hawthorne's view of the Puritan society. Two people were involved in Hester's sin, but since they do not know the father, the focus lies solely on her. The women are not willing to let her explain or forgive her, instead they are eager to see her punished so that they can use her mistake as a warning for other members of their society.